A Few of Our Favourite Things #6: Maria Menshikova

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Maria Menshikova is Curator of the Dunhuang collection in the State Hermitage Museum. She started work at the Hermitage over forty years ago and while there studied art history. Her interest in Dunhuang dates back to childhood as her father, Professor Lev Menshikov, was a renowned Chinese scholar and curator and cataloguer of the Dunhuang Chinese manuscripts at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts. She has recently curated an exhibition of Sergei Oldenburg’s expedition to Dunhuang at the Hermitage (pictured above at the opening). Her chosen item is a pair of seated guardians DH-1 and DH-2.

Pair of Sitting Fantastic Beasts, DH-2 and DH-1. © The State Hermitage

Maria Menshikova writes:

It so happened that through my visual memory I always remember the images from Dunhuang. In my childhood my father, Lev Nikolaevitch Menshikov, showed me the pictures of the ceiling ornaments, books with the reproductions and photographs of the Mogao Thousand Buddhas caves. And on Sundays papa took me to the museums and of course to the Hermitage and the rooms with the Dunhuang collection. Maybe it was my childish impression but in the exhibition the most attractive for me were the fantastic beasts, the dogs that sat in the middle of the room in the glass cages. I was not afraid of them but thought they were looking at me breathing and smiling as the real pets can.

Two sculptures of the fantastic animals were brought from Dunhuang to St. Petersburg in 1915 by the second Russian Turkestan Expedition, led by academician Sergei Feodorovitch Oldenburg. No other such beasts from Dunhuang are known or have survived. They must be the pair of seated guardians at the entrance to the Buddhist cave. One of them is shown with the open mouth like roaring, the second with the closed mouth but tentative. They are vigorous and listen to the sounds of the world. Any moment they are ready to protect the Buddhist faith from any evil.